Monday, 31 October 2011

Book Review: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

First published in Great Britain: 6th January 2011
By: Andersen Press Limited

Miranda's life is starting to unravel. Her best friend, Sal, gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The key that Miranda's mum keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives:

'I am coming to save your friend's life, and my own.
I ask two favours. First, you must write me a letter.'

The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realises that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she's too late.

My review:

This book won the Newbery Medal in 2010, but was only published in the UK this year. It's a lovely story - bittersweet, but ultimately heartwarming. When You Reach Me is less than 200 pages, separated into lots of short, easy to digest chapters, so the whole thing can be read in a day. That's how I did it and I was instantly transported back to the reading of my childhood. This book felt very much in the style of the YA/middle-grade I grew up reading, the Judy Blumes and the Paula Danzigers - it's even set in 1979. The life it describes, however, is timeless.

Our protagonist, Miranda, is a twelve year-old girl who lives with her single mother, in a rundown apartment in New York City. We follow her through all those recognisable problems of that age: Having your best friend stop talking to you. Being embarrassed by your mother. Wishing you could swap lives with another girl. Liking a boy and not knowing if he'll like you back.

The twist to this simple tale, is that Miranda is telling it to someone we don't know yet. We learn that she has been getting notes from a person claiming to be from the future. This person has asked Miranda to write about her life, in order to stop a terrible tragedy.

Because Miranda is not sure how seriously to take the request, this plot strand stays in the background for most of the novel and the focus is on Miranda's feelings and relationships. Miranda is a very relatable character and her thoughts and concerns were immediately familiar to me, as ones I had at 12. The growing up she does in this novel feels really natural and is subtly done, and it's a pleasure to accompany her on that journey.

When the time-travel element finally takes centre stage, it draws all the story threads together in a satisfying way and is extremely moving to boot. I'd guessed at the identity of the time-traveller (not a spectacular achievement; there are only a few characters, so only a few options, anyway), but I never imagined all the details that made up this sad story. I loved it and it made me cry. I think it's a story that would be really interesting to see told from the other side, too: A story about someone who learns to time travel and goes back to try and prevent an incident from his past, with the help of a young girl. So, Rebecca Stead, if you are thinking of writing a companion novel from the time traveller's POV, know that you have at least one eager reader for that.

Something that made me feel very dense, is that I have not read A Wrinkle in Time and know nothing about the plot of it. Look, we all have some gaps in our childhood reading, OK? It's not vital that you know it to understand When You Reach Me, but A Wrinkle in Time is Miranda's favourite book and is discussed quite a bit. Before the title was said, I was sitting there wondering if Meg and Camazotz and IT were from a real book or not. So I felt stupid and while it didn't impinge on my enjoyment of the book one iota, it's possible When You Reach Me may be an even richer experience if you're familiar with the earlier book.

I found When You Reach Me to be such a nice read, such a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. The next time you have a free one, I recommend you pick it up and do the same.

Rating: 4 stars


  1. This sounds like a wonderful book. I'm not usually one for time travel books because I don't really understand the physics behind it but your review has me curious. I also haven't read anything where the MC is younger than 16 in a while so it'll be a nice trip down memory lane!

  2. This sounds great! I'm going to put this one on my list!

  3. Ahh the Newberry awards! I use to always pick my books as a kid based on whether or not it had a Newberry medal on the front lol...This one sounds really good!

  4. Oh wow, I want to read this book so much now! I'd heard about this one, but your review makes me want to find a copy asap.

    Also you totally need to read A Wrinkle in Time. It is such an amazing book. :D

  5. That sounds like a cool plot! Definitely going on my TBR list asap.


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